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Celebrity restaurateur John J. Tunney to open Ballo eatery at Mohegan Sun

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Mohegan - John J. Tunney III, whose Besito, a Mexican restaurant in West Hartford's Blue Back Square, is among the "most booked" in the state, according to an online reservations service, will open an Italian restaurant/nightclub at Mohegan Sun.

Construction has begun on Tunney's Ballo Italian Restaurant and Social Club, the casino announced Monday.

The 16,000-square-foot restaurant, Tunney's 12th, will operate in the Casino of the Earth in space formerly occupied by The Longhouse, Pompeii & Caesar and Bamboo Forest, three Mohegan Sun-owned facilities that closed in January. A fourth casino-owned restaurant, The Cove, shut down in May.

"John is an outstanding operator," Mitchell Etess, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun, said. "His track record speaks for itself. He'll bring excitement and professionalism."

Etess said Tunney was among a number of restaurateurs who expressed an interest in operating at Mohegan Sun.

"Ultimately, he provided the most compelling program," Etess said. "The (Mohegan) tribal council was very enthusiastic about it."

When Ballo opens, all the restaurant space at the casino will be occupied, Etess said.

Tunney, who also operates two Besito locations on Long Island, has run restaurants in Las Vegas and Atlantic City as well. His Ballo design for Mohegan Sun is inspired by the 12th-century abbey at San Galgano, in the Tuscany region of central Italy. It will feature a cathedral-like setting, with marble bars, arches, stone and dramatic lighting.

Tunney, according to the casino's statement, "is committed to fresh, locally grown produce and innovative Italian staples " At 11 each night, some of the restaurant's dining room furniture will be removed to accommodate dancing.

Open Table, the online restaurant reservation service, recently named Besito the No. 1 Mexican restaurant in the tri-state (Connecticut, New York, New Jersey) area. It named the Besito in West Hartford the most-booked restaurant in Connecticut.

At Mohegan Sun, Tunney joins a lineup of celebrity restaurateurs that includes Todd English, Bobby Flay, Michael Jordan and Jasper White.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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